An Inside Look At Two “Unrelated” Banker Suicides Reveals A Fascinating Rabbit Hole
It has been nearly four years since one of the most infamous, and still largely unexplained, banker “suicides” took place, the first in a series of many: we are talking about the death of the director of communications at Monte dei Paschi di Siena, David Rossi, who allegedly jumped to his death on March 6, 2013.
Since this event has largely faded away from the public consciousness here is a quick recap: David Rossi, who was the head of communications for Monte dei Paschi di Siena bank, which was founded in 1472 and which is currently seeking to finalize its third bailout since the financial crisis, died after falling – or being pushed – from a third floor window of the bank’s headquarters in a 14th century palazzo in the Tuscan city of Siena.
His death in March 2013 came at a time when the bank was pushed close to the brink of collapse over a scandal involving the loss of hundreds of millions of euros through risky investments.
While a quickly cobbled together post-mortem found that Rossi, 51, had killed himself, his family strongly suspected that he was murdered because he knew too much about the bank’s shady financial deals. As a result, earlier this year, prosecutors in Siena, where the bank is based, ordered his body to be exhumed and for the trajectory of his fall to be simulated, in an attempt to discover exactly how he died.
The death itself was suspicious: while Rossi fell, or was pushed, from his office at exactly 7:59:23 pm on March 6, 2013, and landed in a darkened alleyway.
Deutsche Banker Rossi did not die immediately – he was alive for 22 minutes, investigators believe.
What made Rossi’s death even more puzzling is that security camera footage, released years after his death, showed two shadowy figures appear at the end of the alley, apparently checking that there was no chance he would survive.
The scandalous video emerged in public this June, when the Post’s Michael Gray used it as the basis for an article asking “Why are so many bankers committing suicide?” For those who have not seen the 4 minute clip, we present it below in its entirety.
Among the oddities revealed at the site of the alleged suicide is that the executive had bruises and scratches on his arms and wrists which suggested that he may have been gripped forcibly by one or two assailants before being pushed out of the window.
On the back of his head was a deep, L-shaped gash suggesting he may have been hit with a blunt object before falling from the window.
Three apparent suicide notes were found crumpled in a bin in his study, but Antonella Tognazzi, his widow, said they contained phrases that her husband would never have used. One of them said: “Ciao, Toni, my love. I’m sorry.”
“He never called me Toni, he always called me Antonella,” his widow, who has long contended that her husband did not kill himself but was murdered, said.
The recent reopening
A handwriting expert who analyzed the notes said they seemed to have been written under duress. Another unexplained element is the fact that 33 minutes after Mr Rossi fell from his office window, a call was made on his mobile phone.
At exactly the same moment, the CCTV footage showed an object falling onto the ground and landing a few feet from the body; it was later found to be Mr Rossi’s watch, minus the strap.
To be sure, the recent emergence of the video has somehwat placated Rossi’s widow, Antonella Tognazzi, who got her wish for a re-examination into the circumstances surrounding Rossi’s death: “We’ve been waiting a long time for the investigation to be reopened,” said Ms Tognazzi early this year quoted by the Telegraph.
“It’s what we had been hoping for – it’s an important sign on the part of the judiciary. I have never believed he committed suicide.”
The plot thickens when one digs into the details revealed by the footage captured on the surveillance video.
The footage shows the three-story fall didn’t kill Rossi instantly. For almost 20 minutes, the banker lay on the dimly lit cobblestones, occasionally moving an arm and leg. As he lay dying, two murky figures appear.
Two men appear and one walks over to gaze at the banker. He offers no aid or comfort and doesn’t call for help before turning around and calmly walking out of the alley.
Two minutes into the clip, Gray also notes that “Italian authorities have yet to identify these two men.”
Following the Post article, there was a scramble by the Italian press to explain that the two men had indeed been identified, and to suggest that the local police knew, all along who they were. In a statement, the prosecutor of Siena said that the video on the fall of David Rossi “being circulated on the internet corresponds to the one already acquired during the investigation”. Moreover, the two men seen near Rossi’s body in the video footage were already interviewed in the first phase of the investigation.
“For final confirmation and to avoid any further speculation, we have decided to re-interview the two men in the video as part of the new investigation,” wrote the prosecutor. The two people in question are Giancarlo Filippone and Bernardo Mingrone. “The first, seen wearing a padded jacket, was a colleague and friend of David Rossi, while Mingrone, who is wearing a coat and remains in the background, was at the time a senior executive in the MPS finance department.”
Courtesy of the police inquest into the suicide can confirm the two individuals seen in the back alley where Rossi died, were indeed his former coworkers Giancarlo Filippone a manager at Monte Paschi and a friend of Rossi, and Bernardo Mingrone, the CFO of Monte Paschi.
The police report notes the following testimony from Filippone, as recounted by Il Fatto Quotidiano: “I came from work at 18 and later I was contacted by the wife of Rossi who had not heard from her husband and begged me to go and call him. I sent him a text message at 19:41 (…) and got no response, so after waiting a bit I went to the office at 20:30 and when I entered the room I saw the window open, I looked below and saw David’s lifeless body.”
Mingrone’s testimony was also recorded: “At 20:40 on my way out I was talking on the phone, and just as I was in the hallway on the ground floor of the building heading towards the main exit, I met another man (Filippone) gesticulating dramatically and confused.
The concierge mouthed the following words: “David Rossi” then “window”, then after hanging up the phone i met with Rossi’s colleague (Filippone, ed) who told me that David Rossi was thrown from the window. I asked the two where Rossi’s office was located and to accompany me there asking if they had called an ambulance. I entered the office and I looked out the window seeing the body on the ground; at that point I called 118 (emergency sevices) since I had been told that no one had called previously.”
That’s the official version; the actual video evidence demonstrates no panic, and no distressed among the two individuals, who calmly walk up to the dying body and then calmly walk away.
The public prosector found little in the circumstances suspect, and as he detailed on June 17, there was no mystery as to the presence of the two men in the alley, where Rossi was either pushed or had jumped on his own.
Where some confusion does emerge, however, is that according to a different recount of events that night, Rossi did in fact speak to his wife Antonella whom he called at 19:02, one hour prior to the deadly fall, in which he did not speak as like someone who is going to commit suicide. To the contrary they were making dinner plans:
“I will be home at 19.30. I already bought everything you need. But first I need to take the meatballs that I ordered for dinner. See you later.”
He would never make it home as he was dead shortly after. Adding to the confusion is that after his death a number was typed on his cell: 409909 which, according to his lawyer, may have been a computer access code. It is unclear what was being accessed or who typed in the code.
But the question about the presence of the Monte Paschi CFO at the crime (or suicide) scene, is just one part of the mystery.
Two days prior to Rossi’s death, the communications director sent a cryptic email to the bank’s CEO, Fabrizio Viola according to Rossi’s wife.
“I want guarantees of not being overwhelmed by this thing,” he wrote. “We would have to do right away, before tomorrow. Can you help me?”
As the post previously asked,”it remains a mystery what specifically Rossi thought could “overwhelm” him just before his death, but many have speculated that he was referring to Monte Paschi’s troubled financial position.”
Incidentally, Fabrizio Viola stepped down as Monte Paschi CEO just one month ago, as the bank was deep in the middle of its latest, third, bailout process which however according to press reports has met substantial procedural hurdles and may not be completed, with speculation a debt for equity swap may be required to facilitate the bank’s rescue.
Furthermore, Rossi was a close confidant of former bank Chairman, Joseph Mussari, who was the driving force behind Monte Paschi’s 2008 $13 billion purchase of Banca Antonveneta from Spain’s Santander.
Many banking analysts agreed at the time that Monte Paschi had overpaid for the acqusition, which incidentally was financed by Deutsche Bank.
Giuseppe Mussari poses at the ABI headquarters in Rome July 27, 2010
Adding to the mystery, in October 2014, an Italian court sentenced Mussari to three years and six months in jail for misleading regulators in relation to a 2009 derivative trade with Nomura that prosecutors said was used to conceal losses.
The court in Siena, where Italy’s third-biggest lender is based, also sentenced former chief executive Antonio Vigni and ex-finance boss Gianluca Baldassarri to the same jail term. Prosecutors had asked for a seven-year jail sentence for Mussari and six years for Vigni and Baldassarri.
Prosecutors had accused Mussari, Vigni and Baldassarri of hiding a document known as a mandate agreement, which prosecutors and regulators said made clear that the derivative, called Alexandria, was linked to the acquisition of 3 billion euros worth of long-term Italian government bonds by Monte dei Paschi.
The link between the two trades meant they should have received different accounting treatment, which would have shown heavy losses. Alexandria and two other derivatives trades ultimately forced Monte Paschi to restate its accounts and book a loss of 730 million euros on its 2012 results.
New management at the bank, now working on a plan to fill the 2.1-billion-euro capital hole, has said it only discovered the existence of the mandate agreement when it was found in a safe in Vigni’s former office in October 2012, more than three years after it was signed.
If so far this all appears very confusing, is because it indeed is.
Where it gets even more confusing is that in January of this year, three executives from Deutsche Bank, which as we now know was very intimately involved with some of the illegal derivative transactions undertaken by Monte Pasci, were also implicated civilly, including Michele Faissola, the head of Private & Asset Wealth Management at Deutsche Bank— charged by Italian authorities with colluding with the troubled Monte Paschi in falsifying accounts, manipulating the market and obstructing justice.
Prosecutors have been reconstructing how Monte Paschi’s former managers misrepresented the lender’s finances in the years before it sought a government bailout.
The misrepresentation first came to light in January 2013 when Bloomberg reported that Monte Paschi used a transaction with Deutsche Bank, the infamous Santorini (profiled here), to mask losses from an earlier derivative contract. The bank the same year had to restate its accounts.
Faissola denied the charges.
Faissola, whose roles included overseeing rates and commodities, was put in charge of Deutsche Bank’s combined asset and wealth management division in 2012 when Anshu Jain and Juergen Fitschen took over as co-chief executive officers of the Frankfurt-based lender.
Deutsche Bank on Oct. 18 said Faissola would leave after a transition period; his departure came just a few months after the sudden resignation of Co-CEOs Anshu Jain and Jurgen Fitschen in June 2015; it is said that Faissola was their close protege.
As a reminder, earlier this month, the recently troubled Deutsche Bank was itself charged by Italy for market manipulation and creating false accounts. Additionally, the name Faissole emerged once again, when as Bloomberg reported, six current and former managers of Deutsche Bank, including Michele Faissola, Michele Foresti and Ivor Dunbar, were charged in Milan for colluding to falsify the accounts of Italy’s third-biggest bank, Monte Paschi and manipulate the market.
Here is where things get interesting.
Michele Faissola was a coworker of one William S. Broeksmit. By way of background, Broeksmit had two stints at Frankfurt-based Deutsche Bank, first from 1996 to 2001, then from 2008 until his retirement in September 2013, having previously worked at Merrill Lynch. When he rejoined the bank in 2008 it was in a newly created position, head of portfolio risk optimization. In 2012, as Jain and Fitschen prepared to take over as CEOs, the duo advanced Broeksmit’s name to become the new chief risk officer.
The bank retreated on his nomination after German financial regulator BaFin raised concerns that Broeksmit’s lack of experience managing a large number of employees.
Broeksmit worked as a consultant from his retriement until Janury 28, 2014… when the body of the 58 year old was found hanging in his London flat from a dog leash tied to the top of a door. He had just commited suicide..
As we reported at the time, financial papers had been strewn about the scene of his suicide, and on a dog bed near the body were a number of notes to family and friends.
One was addressed to Deutsche Bank CEO Anshu Jain, with an apology. That note offered no clue as to the reason he was sorry.
And this is where the story gets even more fascinating: the abovementioned Michele Faissola, who was instrumental in helping Monte Paschi arrange its various derivative deals with Deutsche Bank, was the first to arrive at the gruesome scene of Broeksmit’s suicide in 2014.
When he arrived at the South Kensington home, he immediately began going through the bank papers and read the suicide notes.
The west London home of William S. Broeksmit where he was found dead in 2014
We know all this because it was recounted to us by Val Broeksmit, the son of the deceased high-ranking Deutsche Bank banker. Val also who provided us the police report of David Rossi’s death, and various other key notes as he has tried to piece together over the years how and why his father committed suicide.
While there is no evidence Faissola was involved in any misconduct related to Broeksmit’s death, Val wonders what, if anything, Faissola had been searching for.
So do we.
The reason why this story, which has seen bits and pieces float around over the past 3 years, is reemerging is because now that both the insolvent Monte Paschi is in the news for its ongoing third bailout, not to mention the significantly troubled Deutsche Bank is also a daily source of market stress, the fact that two bankers who were intimately familiar and certainly involved in many of the transactions between Deutsche Bank and Monte Paschi, and which have been deemed illegal and are being prosecuted by the Italian state, have committed suicide, is worth bringing to the public’s attention.
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What is fascinating, is not only how interconnected the fates of Deutsche Bank and Monte Paschi have been over the years – two banks that have each seen a dramatic, high ranking suicide in recent years – but also how far the political process has pushed to preserving a cone of silence surrounding these events: recall that on September 1, Milan prosecutors filed a request to shelve a probe for alleged market manipulation and false accounting against the chief executive of Monte Paschi, Fabrizio Viola, and the bank’s former chairman, Alesandro Profumo; a probe that was launched just several weeks prior. As noted above, Viola quietly resigned from his post shortly after the announcement.
Most importantly, while investigators on both the UK and Italian side have been quick to dismiss the banker deaths as open and shut cases of suicide, courtesy of Broeksmit’s son we have access to certain documents which we are confident will reveal not just how deep the rabbit hole truly goes, linking the oldest and biggest European banks through two still largely unexplained suicides, but also what is hidden behind Deutsche Bank’s mirrored facade.
Ivor is the chairman of Project Trust. He lives in London and is a non-executive director of Powa Technologies Limited (a financial technology company) and Bluefield Harrier Limited (a solar power company).
Educated at Inverness Royal Academy and University College of Wales in Aberystwyth, Ivor has spent most of his professional career as an investment banker with Barclays de Zoete Wedd and until recently with Deutsche Bank.
Ivor is a capital markets specialist and at Deutsche Bank he was head of global capital markets, co-head of investment banking and a member of the executive committee of Deutsche Bank’s corporate and investment banking division.
Committee memberships: Audit (Chair), Remco (member)
The Deutsche Bank, Monte Paschi Cover-Up: Tier 1 Capital and an Equity Swap
At Deutsche Bank, the job title “risk manager” might be more appropriately characterized as “campaign manager.” That is, Deutsche Bank is no more concerned with the active mitigation of risk than the unscrupulous politician is with actively avoiding extra marital affairs. Like campaign mangers then, risk managers at Deutsche Bank must accept the fact that occasionally (or perhaps quite often) messes will be made and spin campaigns will need to be devised and deployed in order to keep public opinion from turning sour and in order to keep the few regulators who aren’t on the payroll from stirring up any trouble. In short, risk management at the firm seems to be more reactive than proactive and the combination of pliable mathematical models, questionable ethical standards, and a clueless public makes it possible for the firm’s quant spin doctors to disappear vast amounts of risk from the books without anyone getting wise.
Apparently however, even the mainstream media has gotten wise to the act. Recently, CNBC’s John Carney and DealBreaker’s Matt Levine observed that Deutsche Bank was able to report a higher Tier 1 capital ratio in its most recent quarter not by reducing the loans on its books or by increasing its earnings, but by changing the way it calculates its risk weighted assets. In other words, it manipulated its mathematical models to achieve more favorable results.
It is ironic that these commentators should be the ones calling out Deutsche Bank for crimes against mathematics. After all, a little over a month ago, these same two journalists (and many of their peers) trivialized the whistleblower claim filed against Deutsche Bank by a Mr. Eric Ben-Artzi, a PhD mathematician from the most prestigious school of applied mathematics in the country, NYU’s Courant Institute.
In any case, on January 17, Bloomberg reported that “Deutsche Bank designed a derivative for Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena SpA at the height of the financial crisis that obscured losses at the world’s oldest lender before it sought a taxpayer bailout.” The Bloomberg story set-off a wave of investigations which ultimately revealed that the world’s oldest bank made a series of bad derivatives bets that will ultimately cost it three quarters of a billion euros. The Bank of Italy has since approved a 3.9 billion euro taxpayer-sponsored bailout. The story has taken several decisive (albeit hilarious) turns for worst over the past two weeks and the whole thing now reads like a lost chapter of The Da Vinci Code, complete with treacherous characters, scandalous deal-making, and a secret contract locked away “in a concealed safe in a 14th century Tuscan palace.”
As intriguing as all of that is, it is the Deutsche Bank connection which is of particular interest. The firm’s role in helping Monet Paschi conceal losses speaks to the depravity of Deutsche’s corporate culture and to the firm’s willingness to share its expertise in the art of obfuscation with its clients. Here is Bloomberg’s description of what happened:
Monte Paschi was facing a 367 million-euro loss on a… Deutsche Bank derivative linked to its stake in Intesa Sanpaolo SpA (ISP), Italy’s second-biggest bank, according to two documents drafted by executives at the German lender in November and December 2008…
Monte Paschi, which originally took the stake in one of Intesa’s predecessor companies more than a decade earlier, had entered into a swap with the German bank in 2002 to raise cash from the holding to bolster capital while retaining exposure to Intesa’s stock-price moves, the documents show.
Intesa shares fell more than 50 percent in the 11 months through November 2008, and the decline would have forced Monte Paschi to post a fair-value loss on the swap at the end of the quarter, threatening the bank’s capital and earnings, the derivatives specialists who examined the documents said.
“Monte Paschi was facing a loss on its equity position and may have needed to find a way around it,” Satyajit Das, a former Citigroup Inc. (C) banker and author of half a dozen books on risk management and derivatives, said after reviewing the files.
This is the first part of what would eventually become a multi-legged trade that spanned the better part of a decade. Although the mainstream media has done a decent job of describing the mechanics of the transaction, I wanted to know the details, so I contacted Bloomberg to see if they would be interested in sharing the 70 some odd pages of documents on which they based their original story. Not surprisingly, they informed me that they are not currently able to share the evidence. While they promised that I would be the first to know if the situation changed, I thought I might take a stab at explaining, in detail, what exactly went on between Deutsche and Monte Paschi in lieu of Bloomberg’s top-secret document stash.
I cannot, of course, be sure that this is entirely accurate without access to primary sources, but this should serve as a decent outline for those interested in learning how the largest bank in the world conspired with the oldest bank in the world to effectively hide hundreds of millions in losses from shareholders.
For our purposes, the story begins on page 310 of Monte Paschi’s 2002 annual report. Under “Acquisitions, Incorporations, and Sales,” the following passage appears:
Sale to Deutsche Bank AG London Branch of a 4.99-percent holding in San Paolo-IMI S.p.A. Along with this sale, the Bank invested EUR 329 million to purchase a 49-percent interest in the newly incorporated Santorini Investment Ltd. Partnership, a Scottish company that is 51- percent owned by Deutsche Bank AG. The aggregate price of the sale was EUR 785.4 million; the difference (EUR 425.3 million) between the sale price and the carrying value (EUR 1,210.7 million) was charged to the revaluation reserve set up in accordance with Law 342/2000. The residual amount was allocated to shareholders’ equity through a bonus share capital increase authorized by a resolution of the extraordinary shareholders’ meeting of 30 November 2002. (emphasis mine)
This is the genesis of the Deutsche Bank deal and while it may sound convoluted, the bank’s motives seem relatively clear in retrospect. First, consider the effect the transaction above had on Monte Paschi’s statement of shareholders’ equity:
First, the bank had to account for the 425 million-euro difference between the carrying value of its stake in San Paolo bank and the amount Deutsche Bank paid for those shares. This was effectively a loss, and as it turned out, Monte Paschi had held what it called an “extraordinary meeting” on November 30 of 2002 to get shareholder approval to use its entire 715 million-euro revaluation reserve (green arrow above) for an increase in the par value of the ordinary and savings shares and to absorb the loss on the sale of the San Paolo stake to Deutsche Bank (this is outlined on page 383 of the 2002 annual report).
Because revaluation reserves didn’t generally count towards Tier 1 capital, the bank was able to absorb the loss on the sale without affecting the area it was really concerned about: core capital. As an added benefit, Monte Paschi was able to use the remainder of the revaluation reserve (the 209 million left over after it absorbed the loss on the sale of the shares) to raise the par value of its own shares, resulting in an increase in its share capital (yellow arrow above). This of course, led to a concurrent increase in the bank’s Tier 1 capital ratio. Effectively then, Monte Paschi turned a 425 million euro loss on the sale of an equity stake into a .2% increase in its Tier 1 capital ratio (there were other components which contributed to the increase, but the point stands). This is likely what Bloomberg was referring to when it said Monte Paschi was seeking “to bolster capital” by using its equity stake in San Paolo.
As noted above, Monte Paschi and Deutsche set up “Santorini Investment Ltd” after the completion of the equity sale. This is where the “equity swap” referenced by Bloomberg comes into play. From what I can tell, this was some derivation of a “total return equity swap.” Here, the deal began with the sale of the San Paolo stake to Deutsche Bank. “Santorini Investment Ltd” (the ”partnership” Deutsche and Monte Paschi set up after the sale) was essentially a special purpose vehicle (SPV) through which the swap was effectuated.
Santorini was majority owned (51%) by Deutsche Bank – Monte Paschi controlled 49%. A portion of the cash from the original sale of the San Paolo stake to Deutsche was effectively used to finance Monte Paschi’s stake in Santorini. Through the SPV, Monte Paschi was able to retain exposure to the share price fluctuations of its San Paolo stake. Typically in such a deal, there is either a floating rate or a fixed rate of interest paid over the life of the swap to the entity to which the shares were sold (in this case Deutsche) based on the notional amount of the shares traded (so 785 million euros here). When the swap matures, the original seller of the shares (Monte Paschi here) will receive the difference between the price of the shares when the swap was originated and the price of the shares at maturity.
Obviously, if the shares rise over time the original seller makes a profit on the swap (minus any interest payments made along the way). Of course the stock could go up or down over the life of the transaction so there is a very real possibility that the original seller of the shares will have to make a payment at maturity in addition to the interest payments made along the way. Note also that if the stock drops over the course of the deal, the original seller may be forced to post collateral to the buyer of the shares. Through Santorini then, Monte Paschi appears to have entered into a total return equity swap with Deutsche Bank referencing the 4.99% stake in San Paolo. Monte Paschi paid Deutsche interest on the deal and was on the hook for margin calls in the event the value of San Paolo’s shares dropped. The following graphic is a simplified diagram of the swap based on an unrelated total return swap diagram originally posted on Sober Look:
It is important to remember that one of the pitfalls of entering into such an agreement is that the seller of the shares may initially have to recognize a capital loss on the sale. By using its revaluation reserve, Monte Paschi was able not only to effectively avoid this for the purposes of core capital, but was in fact able to boost its Tier 1 capital ratio while retaining exposure to the share price movements of the sold San Paolo stake through the swap deal with Deutsche.
The original term of the deal was 3 years but according to Monte Paschi’s 2004 annual report, the swap was extended to 2009:
“…with reference to the investments held in Santorini Investment Limited Partnership, the capital loss, due to the compliance with several accounting principle, is not deemed to be permanent in view of the assets underlying the financial contracts, which anyway increased in value in the last period; moreover, the contract was renewed for further 4 years (new expiry: 31 May 2009) while keeping the advance redemption right.”
On January 1 2007, San Paolo merged with Banka Intesa hence the following passage from the Bloomberg piece:
“Monte Paschi,… originally took the stake in one of Intesa’s predecessor companies… [and] entered into a swap with the [Deutsche] in 2002 to raise cash from [that]…while retaining exposure to Intesa’s stock-price moves.”
It appears then, that Monte Paschi effectively gained exposure to Intesa’s stock by default. Whatever the case, the collapse in the price of Intesa’s shares in 2008 resulted in a 367 million euro impairment to Monte Paschi’s Santorini investment. Desperate, the bank asked Deutsche Bank what could be done. Ultimately, it was determined that Deutsche and Monte Paschi would restructure Santorini and devise a replacement swap that would allow Monte Paschi to hide the losses on its original position.
The replacement swap will be the topic of a follow up piece. For now, consider that Deutsche Bank and Monte Paschi were able, via a stock purchase and a subsequent equity swap, to boost Monte Paschi’s 2002 Tier 1 capital (even though the stock purchase resulted in a nearly half billion euro capital loss for Monte Paschi), while ensuring that Monte Paschi retained exposure to the underlying shares. At the time, it undoubtedly seemed like a good idea – perhaps even a win-win situation. Of course, the near collapse of the worldwide financial system in 2008 would turn the deal into a nightmare for Monte Paschi, but as the Italian bank learned, when Deutsche Bank’s risk management department is involved, “losses” are just an illusion.